1.The aim of this study was to define from umbilical artery flow velocity waveforms absolute peak systolic and time-averaged velocity, fetal heart rate, fetal heart rate variability and flow velocity variability, and the relation between fetal heart rate and velocity variables in early pregnancy.

2.A total of 108 women presenting with a normal pregnancy from 10 to 20 weeks of gestation consented to participate in a cross-sectional study design. Doppler ultrasound recordings were made from the free-floating loop of the umbilical cord.

3.Umbilical artery peak systolic and time-averaged velocity increased at 10–20 weeks, whereas fetal heart rate decreased at 10–15 weeks of gestation and plateaued thereafter. Umbilical artery peak systolic velocity variability and fetal heart rate variability increased at 10–20 and 15–20 weeks respectively.

4.The inverse relationship between umbilical artery flow velocity and fetal heart rate at 10–15 weeks of gestation suggests that the Frank–Starling mechanism regulates cardiovascular control as early as the late first and early second trimesters of pregnancy. A different underlying mechanism is suggested for the observed variability profiles in heart rate and umbilical artery peak systolic velocity. It is speculated that heart rate variability is mediated by maturation of the parasympathetic nervous system, whereas peak systolic velocity variability reflects the activation of a haemodynamic feedback mechanism.

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